“Follow me,” the CEO ordered and addressed the entire office. “If any word of this gets out, I will sack the lot of you.”
Zach turned back to see nods from all of the secretaries. Then he saw that Darien had already moved away. Zach’s short legs followed the CEO down the long corridor. Despite his quick walking, he was having trouble keeping up with the long strides of the CEO.
Darien didn’t bother holding the door open for him and Zach rushed into the office before the door closed.
The office was everything he would expect from the office of a billionaire. It was very spacious, everything gleamed and the interior design had definitely cost a bomb. Darien strode through the entryway and through another door to a room with a desk and a long sofa across one wall. It overlooked a stunning view of the city.
The CEO sat down behind the desk and gestured at the chairs in front of it.
It was definitely an order and not a choice.
Zach sat down in the plush chair and his shaking legs greatly appreciated the break. Now his hands started to shake instead. This was the end of his very short career at Harper Publishing. He had only lasted a week and it was all his fault for not knowing when to shut up.
“What is said in here must never leave these walls,” Darien ordered. “Is that understood?”
Zach nodded weakly. He would agree to anything if it meant he could leave the CEO’s intimidating presence.
“I take it that you’re an intern- you look very young and I don’t recognise you,” Darien continued. “Which department?”
“Erotica,” the younger man said quietly.
Darien seemed to relax when he heard that.
“Ah, I have heard about you. The latest in the line to not realise that their fate is to read a lot of badly written smut for a year?”
That was certainly one way to describe the internship. Was it really this infamous?
“Yes,” Zach replied.
Was this the part where he was told the internship wasn’t his anymore? He hadn’t been happy with it, but the internship was better than no internship. He would have to hope that another opportunity for an internship had opened up in another publishing company.
“I’m not sacking you by the way,” Darien said and folded his arms. “Judging by what I’ve heard, letting you stay in the erotica department is enough of a punishment for you. I want something else from you.”
Zach narrowed his eyes. The conversation was taking somewhat of an inappropriate turn. Of course, he was relieved to hear that he wasn’t being sacked, but that was no longer his biggest concern.
“What do you want from me?” he questioned.
Darien unfolded his arms and looked him straight in the eye. Zach shivered at the sheer charisma in that gaze. He could see why Darien had managed to become a billionaire instead of just a man who inherited a few millions pounds.
“You are actually correct, I am gay and all those girlfriends are just a cover up,” Darien said very plainly. “I would like you to keep your mouth shut in the future.”
Zach was all too keen to agree with that. He was after all the person at a disadvantage. The internship was his fastest entrance into a properly paid job in the future.
“Of course, I respect your right to keeping your sexuality a secret. I was wrong to say what I did. I’m very sorry about it.”
Surely that was enough? He had apologised and promised to keep everything a secret. Darien would dismiss him in a few minutes and he would be free to return to the office so he could read badly written smut with displeasure.
Darien gave him a look of appraisal and Zach began to get the feeling that he wasn’t leaving the office anytime soon.
“Are your parents still together and happily married?” he enquired suddenly.
Zach took a moment to process the drastic subject change. His brain was probably going to be in panic mode for a long time.
“...Yes, they are.”
He knew he was lucky to have loving parents who still cared for him. Thinking about them gave him a new feeling in his nervous heart, homesickness. Due to the internship he was living in a city apartment that was close to the office as living with his parents would be impractical.
Darien nodded in satisfaction. Clearly he had given the answer the billionaire had been predicting.
“I could tell. Your ideas about love are idealistic because you’ve never had to witness the harsh reality.”
Zach blinked. The dark tone and words caught him off guard.
Darien looked him in the eye again.
“If you were in my position, but with your personal values, what would you do about your sexuality?”
It was most certainly a loaded question, he could feel the evaluating gaze.
Personally he had faced no particular problems with his sexuality. His parents had already suspected he was gay so that had been easy. Coming out to his school friends hadn’t caused anything negative either. He hadn’t faced any problems as an openly gay university student either. He was fully aware he was lucky in that sense.
“I wouldn’t necessarily announce it openly, but I wouldn’t hide either. Hiding it would be more trouble than being honest and would hurt other people in the process,” he answered.
Darien’s eyes gleamed with an emotion Zach couldn’t read.
“You are definitely someone who has never experienced any real difficulty in life. You are gay, aren’t you? I can tell.”
“I am indeed gay. Is there a problem with how I’ve lived my life? You’re not much older than me.”
“That’s my business,” Darien said in a clipped tone. “I’m still considering what to do with you.”
There was the undeniable feeling of unease in the air as he remained under Darien’s unwavering gaze. He knew a decision had been made when Darien stood up and moved to stand directly in front of him. He leaned down and Zach felt trapped in his smouldering eyes.
“For the next year, I want to spend a lot of time with you. If I feel differently about love, feel much happier and believe in your values by the end of next September, I’ll reward you.”
Zach blinked. That was not what he had been expecting to hear in the slightest. What did he even mean by ‘spend a lot of time’. Did he want to go out with him? The look in his eyes certainly didn’t indicate that was the case.
There wasn’t love or any kind of affection in those cold eyes, there was only curiosity.
“What does spending time with you entail?”
Darien folded his arms again and jerked his head.
“Don’t think that I want to date you, that would defeat the purpose of dating so many ladies. If you agree, I won’t date anyone for a year and I’ll spend my spare time with you and if you can have a significant effect on me, I’ll give you something you want- apart from myself that is.”
Zach scoffed loudly.
“You’re not even my type.”
He didn’t know where the confidence to talk back to someone who he had been convinced was going to sack him five minutes before. The randomness of the conversation had to be spurring him on.
“I’m just making my intentions clear. What do you need? Money, I’ve got plenty.”
Zach was quick to reject that. His dream wasn’t to have a large amount of money fall into his lap and never have to work again. He wanted to work for it.
“I don’t want cold hard cash,” he retorted. “I want to earn my way through life.”
He didn’t expect a look of approval from Darien for that, but that was what he received.
“Excellent, I like to hear things like that. Would you prefer for me to arrange for a secure and decent position in this company at the end of the year?”
Zach liked the sound of that much better.
“Outside of the erotica deparment,” Darien added.
“I’ll take it,” Zach said immediately.
It was everything he could want in life. He was just going to have to do his best to change Darien’s depressing outlook on life.
The adrenaline running in his body from the sheer roller coaster of emotions he had experienced in ten minutes, kept throughout the handshake and didn’t wear off until he was outside the office of the erotica department.
What had he just agreed to?
For the next year he was stuck with an attractive yet very cold man who was the most pessimistic person he had ever met. How was he even going to manage to change him into a person who was happy and believed in love?
Zach spent most of the work day with his head in a daze. He was still shocked and processing the heavy burden he had agreed to. Even the worst written smut wasn't enough to pull his mind from its panic induced stupor. He edited with automatic reactions and his brain was very emotionally detached the whole time. He didn't wake from his daze until he was out of the office and was standing outside the flower shop that was around the corner from Harper Publishing's offices. It was his favourite flower shop as it stood out from the sea of modern and sleek glass fronted office buildings in the city and looked like it had been pulled straight from a country painting with yellow brickwork and hanging baskets of flowers anywhere. Zach hesitated outside and inspected the bouquets in one of the displays outside. The person who he shared his apartment with liked having a pot of flowers on the kitchen table to make their apartment look more homely. Zach also liked visitin
The next morning at work Zach sat down at his desk and opened his work email account. It was likely that Darien would be communicating with him soon about their agreement. The CEO would probably choose a subtle method like email to hide the connection between them. As he expected, there was an email from Darien Harper at the top of his inbox. Zach looked nervously around him. It wasn’t quite nine o’clock yet so not everyone had arrived yet. Becca was at her desk looking at her phone and Robert was unpacking his bag. There was no one to see the contents of the email so he opened it. The email was short and to the point. Meet me in my office at lunchtime. There's a lot to discuss. -Darien Harper. Zach immediately moved it to a new folder so there was no chance of anyone catching sight of Darien’s email address in his inbox. He liked lunchtime at Harper Publishing. The canteen had unexpectedly good food so to know he would be mi
Zach returned to the erotica department office as the lunch hour ended and slumped onto his desk chair. He had just signed a legal contract. Their arrangement wasn’t just some unofficial thing that he didn’t have to keep to anymore, he was legally bound to it.At least there was light at the end of the tunnel. No matter what happened, if Darien never changed his ways, he still had a guaranteed job at the end of it. That was a relief to know.How was the arrangement even supposed to work out? He hadn’t been given any directions from Darien.They had exchanged basic contact information, but there had been nothing else decided. Zach had noticed that he didn’t have long to return to the office before the end of the designated lunch break and they had both been keen for him to pass by the secretarial office whilst it was still empty. The less witnesses to their meeting, the better.The other members of the office trickled in at that mom
The location of their first meeting was a very fancy restaurant in London. Zach had read about it in articles about the best places to eat in London and it was most certainly outside of his price range. Darien had sent him a text beforehand telling him not to bother about what he was wearing as they had a private room booked. That didn’t do much to settle his nerves. Zach looked down at his coat, smartest black trousers and shoes and knew they probably wouldn’t pass at close inspection. There was nothing much he could do anyway. He took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the restaurant. A long mirrored hallway greeted him and he carried on down until he came to another door. A smartly dressed man was waiting on the other side. Zach felt the appraising glance and internally cringed. “Do you have a reservation?” he asked respectfully. “I’m here to meet Darien Harper,” Zach replied. Darien hadn’t found the need to book under an assumed nam
“Where did you get all those desserts from?” Emilia asked the following morning. Zach looked up innocently from his bowl of cereal. He had forgotten to consider that Emilia would have some questions about the sudden appearance of a plethora of desserts in neatly packed boxes in the fridge. The fridge had been fairly empty so there had been plenty of space to fill. “I went somewhere last night and picked up a lot.” He knew it sounded extremely implausible the moment he said it. He just wasn’t cut out for being a good liar. “Right,” she said very skeptically. “Sure.” He carried on eating his cereal and hoped she would drop the subject. Emilia snagged the jar of strawberry jam out the fridge and came to sit opposite him at the kitchen table. “Did you not want to make me any desserts ever again or something?” she asked. “I wanted someone to share them with,” he replied quickly. “I’ll take some to work today to free up some space.”<
Zach didn’t predict that he would have to undergo an interrogation from Emilia about his going away bag in the hallway. He was in the bathroom looking for things to pack when he heard her come to a stop in the hallway. “Where are you going?” she asked sharply and came to stand in the doorway. “You don’t go anywhere that requires an overnight stay. It can’t be for work.” Zach put his toothbrush in his wash bag and wracked his brains for an excuse. Emilia was so keenly observant, nothing but the truth or something close to the truth was going to convince her. “I’m having a short weekend holiday,” he replied and came out of the bathroom with his washbag. “It’s been a long two weeks.” That was an understatement. In two weeks he had started his internship, signed a hefty contract with the CEO and had been to a very expensive restaurant with him. Now he was going to the seaside with him for an overnight stay. His world had been turned upside down ve
Their first stop was the hotel to check in and deposit their luggage. Zach wasn’t too surprised to find that Darien had booked at the most expensive hotel in town. He could tell just from the exterior that it was a five star hotel. “I booked the room in your name,” Darien said as they walked through the plushly carpeted entrance. “I’m paying though.” Zach opened his mouth to complain about his name being used without permission and closed it again. It was for the best that Darien didn’t use his own name. He was a well known person after all. Something very important came to his mind suddenly. “Are we sharing a room?” he asked suspiciously. “No,” Darien said shortly. “We have rooms next to each other. I’m a private person and the thought of sharing a room makes me feel ill.” Zach didn’t mind that. The thought of sharing a room with Darien was weird. They weren’t close enough to be comfortable sleeping in beds next to each other or using
Darien continued to stare at Zach as his heartbeat increased rapidly in speed. Either he was on his way to an early heart attack due to the amount of ice cream he had consumed or his heart was responding to Zach. Which was the more preferable option? The billionaire was feeling lost. Instead of being on a quiet beach stuck staring at Zach, he was losing his way in the wilderness. Memories of his one night of freedom at a masked ball were coming thick and fast. He normally tried to keep those memories at bay. “...Are you tired?” Zach’s soft voice made itself known. That was enough to jerk Darien out of his lost state. He could control himself. He wasn’t a romance struck teenager, he was a 27 year old billionaire. “Just a little, let’s go back to the hotel and have dinner. It’s got a five star level restaurant.” Zach perked up noticeably which caused Darien to smile. The intern was very precious. Anyone who ended up dating him would be v